The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport was probably one of the more drama-free beats I had. It’s not to say there wasn’t controversy. We’ll get to that in a minute.
The small-hub airport, which goes by its FAA code SRQ, became debt-free, paying off its mortgage. It renovated its concourse and baggage areas, and continues construction today around its parking lot and infield. A new FAA control tower is being built, too.
But it always had a chip on its shoulder as it competed with a behometh to the north, Tampa International. To a lesser extent, St. Pete-Clearwater Airport, too. And to the south, there’s Fort Myers’ and Punta Gorda’s airports nibbling away.
It became problematic in 2012 when Southwest was ready to phase out AirTran. SRQ was among the first airports for Southwest to pull AirTran from, taking away one-third of the airport’s business.
The airport positioned itself well playing the victim, but then I found out that they were talking to Southwest about the possibility of some type of return as they all but bashed the airline publicly.
Since then, the airport did two large identity campaigns as well as battling a perception that SRQ is more expensive than Tampa. That’s still up for debate depending on which routes you look at for ticket prices, but there are also parking fees and gas and tolls to consider.
Looking at the numbers, the airport was able to mostly recover. But it didn’t mean it restored all routes. Most notably, a route to Baltimore (and nearly Washington, too) wasn’t restored. That’s awfully difficult to get Marylanders down to Sarasota for Orioles spring training at Ed Smith Park. But not any more difficult considering the official airlines of the Orioles is…Southwest.
Anyway, here is a collection from my time covering SRQ:
Private company to take over security screening at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport
SARASOTA — Come Sunday, a private company will screen passengers and baggage at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Trinity Technology Group Inc. of Manassas, Va., will start Feb. 1 and will fully assume screening duties April 1, taking over the duties of Transportation Security Administration agents, said Jean Barnes, assistant federal security director at SRQ. Barnes will continue to oversee the company’s compliance and contract performance.
TSA announced in November it awarded Trinity a contract valued up to $21.1 million if it exercises all options of the 60-month contract, which began Dec. 1.
The private contractors performing security screening services are part of a Screening Partnership Program developed as a pilot program in 2001 under the Aviation Transportation Security Act that allowed private contractors to perform TSA screening operations at five airports.
Customers shouldn’t notice a difference in customer service or security procedures, said Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, president and chief executive officer for SRQ.
“The only thing you’ll notice different is the uniform,” Piccolo said. The security personnel still has to work under TSA security guidelines and procedures.
The reason for endorsing the move to a privatized company was better flexibility in scheduling hours for workers, Piccolo said. The airport had no problem with TSA’s customer service and role at the airport.
“It was a philosophical issue, not a service issue,” Piccolo added.
The union for the TSA workers, American Federation of Government Employees Local 556, opposes the move because it removes skilled workers, employees lose federal benefits and are typically paid less and asked to do more in the privatized roles.
“We know it’s a small airport, but our concern is some of the screeners working there will see an added stress level because they keep adding on more things to do,” said Donald Thomas, president of Local 556.
Thomas believes security will be affected because, in his view, new employees could not care as much about their screening jobs because of the lower pay and stress levels.
Trinity has about 50 local employees who have applied for positions at SRQ airport, officials said. Not all of them will be the existing TSA agents. About 60 TSA full-time equivalent employees work at SRQ and about 20 to 30 are reapplying for their jobs, Thompson said.
“Trinity is delighted to be here at SRQ,” said Bill Scott, program manager at Trinity.
Twenty airports in the United States participate in the privatized security program, including Key West International and Orlando Sanford International Airport, both of which Trinity services.
SRQ’s new slogan: ‘You’ll fly through here’
MANATEE — After a flat year for passenger traffic, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport officials hope a new slogan can give those numbers a lift.
“You’ll fly through here” will be SRQ’s new slogan and advertising campaign, ditching “Do You SRQ?” as a way to touch on the airport’s convenience.
The airport’s new marketing agency, Patterson/Bach, created the slogan and tested it in a focus group last month with two other slogans: “Faster, Easier, Smarter” and “Love At First Flight.” The group chose the winning slogan with a 75 percent vote for first choice.
“Respondents believed this campaign communicated most clearly, most positively and most convincingly SRQ’s promise of convenient, hassle-free, stress-free airport experience,” Patterson/Bach President Tim Bach said at Monday’s Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority meeting.
This will be a key year for the airport to regain footing
if weather cancellations for Northeast flights don’t bury it. Weather cancellations last year prompted a 0.8 percent increase in passenger traffic, equating to 1.19 million passengers. Additional flights to Newark, New York and Toronto could boost numbers.
The slogan, accentuating the word “fly” went over some of the board members’ heads because they interpreted it literally. “Fly” is as a way to convey speed and convenience, Bach said.
“If the focus group didn’t choose it, you wouldn’t see it,” he said, adding the tagline will have more context. Bach said some of the best campaigns are the simplest, like Wendy’s 1984 commercial “Where’s the Beef?”
The participants in the focus group were 67 percent male, mainly 55 to 64 years old and half had a household income of more than $125,000, according to Patterson/Bach’s presentation. Nobody 18 to 24 years old participated in the group.
The campaign will launch this year with print, TV, Facebook and text marketing and with promotions for free parking and free flights. The print ads will accentuate the airport’s positive aspects while the TV ads will contrast the airport against its competitors, Bach said.
As much as convenience is touted, price is important to some airport officials.
“There’s a misconception about the dollars and cents,” board member Carlos Beruff said. Airport passengers “think it’s a lot more expensive.”
On average, SRQ flights cost less than competing airports but he would suggest going against a “we’re cheaper” campaign because the more affordable tickets are sold out much earlier than other airports and some routes are more competitive than others, said Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, chief executive officer of SRQ and president of the airport authority.
Some of that messaging will come out in the campaign, Bach said.
“If we stress the lines about no hassle and get people to try us early, then we are competitive in price,” he said.
For the most part, the airport will focus on the experience of quicker security lines and easier parking.
“We’re like Whole Foods and Tampa’s like Publix,” Piccolo said. “It’s a different level and different experience. We’re a boutique airport to some degree.”
Board member Henry Rodriguez didn’t completely agree with the grocery comparison.
“You know what they say about Whole Foods, right? It’s a whole paycheck,” he said.
SRQ airport trying to put its international name to more use
By CHARLES SCHELLE – email@example.com | Bradenton Herald
DECEMBER 10, 2014
MANATEE — In a quest to market flights, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is trying to put the international in its name to good use.
SRQ airport officials see its offerings as more international as it picks up connecting hubs through major airlines Delta, United and Air Canada.
Each of those airlines can take passengers from Europe with a stop in either Atlanta, Newark, N.J., or Toronto and take them to Sarasota.
United’s spring service to Newark can take passengers from Sarasota to Berlin and back via Chicago while Delta can bring passengers from Paris via Atlanta and dozens of other European cities. Air Canada can help Londoners get here via Toronto.
“We have connections internationally now that we didn’t have last year — quite a bit more,” said Mark Stuckey, vice president of special projects for SRQ during Wednesday’s Airport Advisory Commission meeting.
That international connection is expected to grow as weekend flights are being added to LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy international airports in New York and O’Hare International in Chicago, he added.
“As they continue to add each airline here, the capacity increases for more opportunity for those better international connections,” Stuckey said, which cuts down on layover times.
About 10 percent of the airport’s passengers, or 150,000, were international travelers in 2013, he said.
“You’re going to see a huge jump in that number this next year, but it continues to increase each year,” Stuckey said, crediting the new Air Canada service for aiding in the increase.
Which airport international travelers connect through to clear customs is important. Area tourism and airport officials are pushing to get passengers to notice.
“Part of what we were promoting in London was it’s so much easier to come into Atlanta than it is in Miami,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. “It’s a better experience, the terminal is better, it’s new and can handle it.”
Delta is pushing a partnership with Virgin Airlines that should help add flights to and from London via Atlanta, she said.
SRQ airport announced Tuesday that Air Canada is adding summer flights twice weekly to Sarasota which is also part of that airline’s international plan.
“Air Canada is building their international service out of Toronto and a lot of people in Europe find it easier to clear customs in Toronto,” Stuckey said.
As American Airlines works through smoothing its operations after merging with US Airways a year ago, Piccolo expects his staff to have serious discussions about adding flights to Dallas. A federal grant that could be used to help start that service expires in 2016, Piccolo said.
An expanded customs area that will handle 300 passengers per peak hour up from 150 will help spur international offerings. That $2.3 million project is expected to be finished in May.
“Over the years sometimes Virginia [Haley] and I would interact with international carriers and they ask about the customs and our answer was, ‘we’re going to finish it, we’re going to work on it,’ and until you do they walk away with that question,” said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If it’s not there yet, they might not believe you.”
Airport officials have said that the larger customs area can also process larger aircraft for international flights, giving hope for a charter service to Germany one day. Regular direct flights to Germany would be tough to obtain now as Tampa International Airport announced this year that Edelweiss Air will fly non-stop three times a week to Zurich starting next year.
U.S. Customs and Borders Patrol staffing still needs to be addressed, Piccolo said. New leadership at the federal agency has sped up processing times with new kiosks that read passports and fingerprints.
“It lessens the amount of CPB officers needed and CPB likes it because they can concentrate their efforts on risk-based and flights where the risks are more dangerous,” Piccolo said. “…It makes it easier for airports like us where staffing levels aren’t as high as they used to be.”
Brand USA, the federal government’s tourism agency, has another five-year renewal where its mission is to bring more international visitors to America, Haley said.
“They’ve been a tremendous help to us reaching international markets we couldn’t touch before,” she said.
Last winter, Brand USA’s Discover America shot several tourism videos in Manatee and Sarasota in multiple languages to communicate to those tourists, visiting the beaches, IMG Academy and area museums.
“Not only is the international market coming in, they’re actually buying property here, too, and they’re still going to be using those international flights to go back to see family,” said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who chairs the Tourist Development Council.
FAA funds new air traffic control tower for SRQ airport
MANATEE — A long-awaited project for a new air traffic control tower at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport could begin next year, as the Federal Aviation Administration plans to give the airport more than $9 million.
The FAA awarded $9.1 million in grants to the airport, which includes a $4 million discretionary grant that will be used to pay for the new tower.
“We are real pleased,” said Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, airport CEO and president of the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority. “This is a project we’ve been working
on for five years.”
Under the airport’s plan, the tower will be relocated to the southwest part of the property to allow development of about 40 acres for hangars and other commercial buildings. Without relocating the tower, the property couldn’t be developed because the new buildings would block air traffic controllers’ views. Once the bidding timeline gets settled, airport staff can start talking with potential companies who want to build in the infield.
“It’s a rare piece of property in that it’s aviation adjacent,” Piccolo said. “It could give very easy access to the airfield.”
Potential uses could be manufacturing facilities or assembly plants that need “just-in-time” delivery, Piccolo said, so manufactures could put products directly on a plane to fly out.
Airport authority Chairman Jack Rynerson welcomed news of the grant award, and estimated several dozen hangars could be built on the property.
“It is terrific,” Rynerson said. “It’s what we expected and it’s nice to have it happen.”
Construction will cost $10.2 million for the tower itself, according to budget documents, but the overall project that includes a base building, infrastructure, design and environmental studies total $18 million to $20 million. Each agency — the airport, FAA and Florida Department of Transportation — will contribute about one-third of the cost of the project. That will come to about $6 million each, Piccolo said, as $1.5 million has already been spent.
Construction bids could be solicited in the spring of 2015 and construction would take two to three years to complete, Piccolo said.
One reason the FAA wants to move the tower is to provide a larger base building in the tower that could serve as a training facility, Rynerson said.
The remaining grant money will be used to fund continuing terminal renovations, expansion of the U.S. Customs & Border Protection Federal Inspection Services area and airfield taxi lanes.
The FAA grant is part of the Airport Improvement Program, funded by user fees on airline tickets, and used to make capital improvements at airports.
The FAA previously issued another grant to pay for the tower’s design.
Piccolo and Rynerson acknowledged the airport has had good fortune of late with awards, more passengers coming through, having its terminal upgraded and now the authority is free of long-term debt.
“We’ve had a good run this past month, and I think there’s no reason why we won’t find more good things happen, service wise,” Rynerson said. “It empowers the airport to keep on keeping on.”
SRQ airport burns $150 million mortgage to celebrate being debt free
MANATEE — Twenty-five years of debt went up in flames Monday morning as Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport officials celebrated paying off its bonds.
Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority Board members and airport staff help throw the mortgage into a small fire pit near the terminal as airport employees stood behind them cheering the milestone that wiped away the nearly $150 million spent to build a terminal and entryway to the airport. Before accruing interest over the last 25 years, the terminal, ramp, roadway and parking cost $60 million in 1987, said Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, SRQ chief executive officer and president of the airport authority. Construction was completed in 1990.
The airport started out in 1939 as an airfield and later was used as an U.S. Army Air Forces fighter pilot training base during World War II. In 1965, it had regular commercial jet airlines before the airport authority committed to a terminal in the 1980s. The 1,100-acre airport is mainly in Manatee County with the terminal area in Sarasota city limits.
“No decision was more difficult or more important than the one that created the modern airport facility that the community enjoys today,” Piccolo said.
In addition to the $5 million annual debt payments, the airport continued to make upgrades without adding to its long-term debt, including lengthening the main runway, new taxiways, a T-hangar expansion, noise mitigation and a business park. The terminal is undergoing an upgrade now as well.
“The terminal now approaches 25 years of age and is in the final stages of total renewal,” Piccolo said. “It has added numerous security and amenity improvements, and most important of all, without adding one penny of new debt over that 25-year period.”
The ticket counters and baggage claim areas are finished and the first and second floors of the concourse are being worked on. Outside, curbside improvements to help travel flow for cars dropping off and picking up passengers are on the way. Design changes have reduced the cost from $7.5 million to below $5 million, according to budget documents. Bids are expected to be received in January.
The authority is also working with FDOT and Manatee County to build a new east airport access, too.
The terminal renovations begun in June are designed to attract more international passengers with an expanded customs area. Airport officials hope they can either attract more Canadian flights or a charter flight to Germany.
One project that seems to be dragging on the federal level is approval for a new and relocated air traffic control tower. If approved, the tower would be relocated to allow commercial development, including hotels, in the airport’s infield. The FFA is reviewing grant requests for the $10.2 million project, and Piccolo said he is optimistic bids could be solicited for the project next spring.
The airport has met with all the major airlines over the past year, including Southwest, to hear plans and talks, and is keying in on finding ways to resume service to Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International for spring training and find an airline to fly to Dallas to serve as a hub to add more West Coast flights beyond those routed through Atlanta.
Airport officials expect to find out within the coming month if any new or expanded service will be added to SRQ as airlines finish winter schedules, Piccolo said.
More passengers are coming through SRQ so far this year compared with 2013, too. Through the end of June, the airport saw about 7,000 more passengers pass through, which accounts for an 1-percent increase compared with the same period last year.
Jack Rynerson, board member of the airport authority, said this will be a day to remember in part due to the work of so many people over a quarter of a century.
“Retirement of a 25-year obligation of the airport authority is a milestone that deserves recognition because it is a culmination of the efforts of so many people,” Rynerson said, thanking authority employees, past and present board members, airlines and service providers.
Now that the airport has freed up about $5 million annually, the airport authority is expected to have a public hearing on its proposed $16.9 million budget at its Sept. 22 meeting. That is only a 4.7-percent increase from the fiscal 2014 budget of $16.1 million.
The budget also forecasts an overall airport revenue increase of $205,472 this fiscal year.
Airport officials hope to devote some of the $5 million in savings to secure more routes and airline service.
The airport is also expected to upgrade its free WiFi this year, too. Right now, fewer than 150 people can use the system at same time — less than a full flight of passengers. The authority is budgeted to spend $90,000 on upgraded bandwidth and coverage with Bright House Networks for better WiFi.
SRQ miffed Tampa International included in Visit Sarasota, Wallenda promotion
SARASOTA — Government partnerships can involve some high-wire walking.
The daredevil act is getting a little hairy here as Visit Sarasota and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport disagree on whether Tampa’s airport should be with them for a Nik Wallenda promotion in London.
Visit Sarasota is partnering with Tampa International Airport to organize a March reception for tour operators featuring Nik Wallenda in London to get Europeans to come to Sarasota. But Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ Airport, is protesting the partnership, saying Sarasota should not be taking money from TIA when it also promotes SRQ.
“This is an exclusive Sarasota County event. It is not a regional event,” Piccolo said at Monday’s Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority meeting. “We fully understand that Tampa International provides a lot of lift to this community as well. It’s a wonderful airport, but we objected to their participation in the event because this is a Sarasota event only.”
Piccolo doesn’t believe there was any malice involved, but he is still disappointed.
Visit Sarasota President Virginia Hayley said SRQ was one of the early sponsors of the event and disagrees with Piccolo’s concern that Visit Sarasota is taking money to promote Tampa.
British Airways is providing some airfare for the promotion, Hayley explained, and during unrelated meetings with Tampa International, staff there heard about the promotion and offered to help with a $10,000 to $15,000 contribution as a sponsor.
It’s the first time the Tampa airport and Visit Sarasota have directly worked with one another on a promotion, she said.
“For us not to take advantage of advertising the different ways to get people here would be negligent on our part,” Hayley said. More than half the visitors who fly to come to Sarasota arrive in Tampa, she added.
Europeans can also take Delta, U.S. Airways or United flights with a stop in Atlanta, Charlotte or Chicago to get to Sarasota-Bradenton, Piccolo said.
When working an international event, it’s important for smaller cities to stand out and show the ease of connecting to other destinations, and that’s why using British Airways from London to Tampa is vital, Hayley said.
The money helps defray costs of the reception, and earns sponsors a mention at the London event and a logo on an easel at the door, Hayley said. Area hotels and car rental companies are also sponsors for the event, she said.
One of the issues with the relationship comes from the visitor bureau’s planning document, Piccolo said. Visit Sarasota’s strategic plan includes an objective to work with Bradenton Area Convention Center and Visitors Bureau to promote flights to SRQ, Tampa, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International and Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.
“We don’t believe it’s correct to have competing airports in their strategic plans,” Piccolo said.
Hayley, who is leaving for Chicago today to promote United’s flights to Sarasota, disagreed.
“Ironically, our draft strategic plan just had SRQ, but didn’t say not to use the other airports. The board looked at it and said aren’t we being short-sighted,” she said.
Sarasota-only promotions should only allow Sarasota or Bradenton area entities to be promoted in events, Piccolo insisted.
CVBs have a duty to show people how they can get to Sarasota-Bradenton, Piccolo said, and understand that they should list options for travel — but marketing and advertising a rival airport is a bit much.
Airport Authority board member Henry Rodriguez agreed.
“That should be their charter — is to promote locally,” he said.
CVBs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties do not promote SRQ, Piccolo said, and the Tampa airport does not pay dues to Visit Sarasota.
“Why should we promote them when they don’t promote us?” Airport Authority board member Carlos Beruff said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Visit Sarasota offered SRQ an opportunity to partner on a different promotion, but it’s too late to drop Tampa out of the Wallenda deal, Piccolo said.
Wallenda, a Manatee County resident and Sarasota native, serves as an important tourism tool to promote the Sarasota area. His hometown is often repeated in the same breath as his name, and his feats at Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon created important exposure for the area. The Grand Canyon walk produced 83 million media impressions for Sarasota, according to Visit Sarasota.
Wallenda’s involvement at the event is to draw people to Sarasota and to say a few words, Hayley said — there will be no wire walking over the Thames.
Visit Sarasota is a contractor for Sarasota County government tourism functions and has its own board of directors, whereas Bradenton Area Convention Center and Visitors Bureau is a Manatee County government department.
Hayley said she would invite Piccolo and an Airport Authority board member to Visit Sarasota’s board meeting next week to resolve the issue.
SRQ is working to expand its international flight capacities beyond offering flights to Toronto. The airport received design approval Friday for its expanded customs area, Piccolo said. The $1.2 million project would process 300 passengers per hour, and is expected to be put out for bid in the coming week. The larger facility would help the airport attract commercial and charter flights to Europe.
Sarasota-Bradenton airport recovering well from AirTran departure
MANATEE — Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is expected to fare better than expected after experiencing its first full calendar year without AirTran.
After initially projecting that airport traffic would decrease 15 percent when AirTran’s departure took away 360,000 passengers in August 2012. Thanks to added flights from JetBlue, Delta and United to New York, Boston and Chicago, the airport is projected to be down about 85,000 passengers or 6.7 percent for the year, said Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ airport.
“I thought if we could hit down 15 percent for the year we would have done very well,” Piccolo said Wednesday at a semi-annual update during the Airport Advisory Commission meeting. “We have far exceeded where we thought we would be, and the airlines seem to be pleased making money and are doing well.”
The airport is awaiting final passenger count numbers for December from one regional carrier, and traffic was up 8.1 percent in December compared to the previous year and up more than four percent out of the last five months of 2013, according to numbers released late Wednesday.
While working to rebound from AirTran, the airport is also battling against losing its nonstop service to Reagan National Airport (DCA) through U.S. Airways since the airline merged with American Airlines. The airport held a press conference with Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Sarasota) last month to rally support to keep the flight as regulators determined the new American airline would have to give up flight slots at Reagan to avoid a monopoly.
“We don’t see any danger to the DCA flight,” Piccolo said Wednesday. “I think that’s very solid.”
Piccolo said he’s working to set up a meeting with American’s new route planner.
The airport will see the start of additional renovations this year. The second floor of the terminal will be renovated, the travel lanes driving into the airport will be reconfigured and a new security system will be installed in the parking lot.
The airport is expected to be debt free come August, Piccolo said, as it finishes its renovations.
One improvement that may be delayed is a new and relocated air traffic control tower that would also open up about 48 acres of airfield for development. The airport is only waiting on federal funding to come through for the project from the FAA.
“Those talks have not been very fruitful yet,” Piccolo said.
Longterm plans for charter flights from Europe are continuing as design plans for a larger customs area are expected to be approved by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol within the next month. When the $1.2 million project is completed, the airport hopes to attract European charter service in three to five years, perhaps with German carrier Condor, Piccolo said, being able to handle about 300 passengers per hour.
Tour operators in Europe are telling tourism officials in Manatee County that Europeans are looking to explore more of Florida. Staff at Delta and American are showing an eagerness to align schedules to make connections and flights possible from Europe to Sarasota, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Almost every tour operator that we met with kind of said our customers are getting tired of Orlando and Mickey Mouse, and we’re looking for something new,” Falcione said. “There’s the opportunity — expose the west coast. You may even see Heathrow, SRQ, Orlando and then back to Heathrow. You could even see something like that initially. They could spend a week here, spend a week in Orlando and then they’re gone.”
Delta is also partnering with the visitors bureau to provide 22 vouchers to German radio sweepstakes winners to bring them to the airport, Falcione added.
IMG, SRQ partner to increase airport usage
BRADENTON — IMG Academy is forging a new partnership with Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport to bring more of its clients through the local airport.
IMG books 10,000 flights a year, and 60 percent of those flights are international, said Fredrick Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ airport. But less than 20 percent of all IMG Academy business is flying to SRQ, said Chris Ciaccio, vice president of marketing and outreach at IMG Performance. And the academy wants to change that.
“Our commitment is to use SRQ as much as we possibly can,” Ciaccio said.
The Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority unanimously approved the agreement at its meeting Monday afternoon to forge a marketing partnership with IMG and for the academy to commit to use SRQ airport as much as it possibly can. Authority member Carlos Beruff was absent.
“Overwhelmingly, our customer satisfaction was the highest when they fly into Sarasota,” Ciaccio said. “It makes sense when they’re 15 minutes away instead of 60 minutes down the street.”
The academy attracts more than 200,000 athletes, coaches and spectators annually, according to IMG. During the summer, the academy’s slowest time, 4,000 people flew in to the academy, Ciaccio said. That’s in addition to the 750 IMG Academy staff and 3,000 IMG Worldwide employees in IMG’s 60-plus
international offices who use the academy for work to entertain clients.
“They often use our backyard as their playground,” Ciaccio said.
The demographics of IMG Academy clients and families are beneficial for more revenue at the airport. Annual tuition at IMG Academy, 5500 34th St. W, starts at $72,000 and specialized training can put that figure well above $100,000, said Dr. Jack Rynerson, commissioner for the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority and a member of the Tourist Development Council in Manatee.
Some of those families or clients might fly on a private jet landing at SRQ while others would likely book first-class seats, Piccolo said.
“Most are flying at the front of the plane,” Piccolo said. “The good thing for us is that when they’re flying at the front of the plane, that’s where airlines make the most revenue.”
The pact is part of the airport’s Do You SRQ? campaign launched in 2012 to get local businesses and organizations to commit using SRQ as its primary airport. More than 200 companies signed onto the program, Piccolo said.
“I think it’s been a very good program and at least people recognizing who we are,” Piccolo said.
A radio campaign for Do You SRQ? is being planned with JetBlue that will include ticket giveaways, Piccolo said.
Part of the new agreement includes IMG promoting the airport with its worldwide reach, a co-branded video, promoting IMG on U.S. 41 billboards, promoting SRQ to incoming IMG students and in the IMG alumni magazine, installing a flight tracker display at IMG and potentially installing an SRQ airport kiosk at IMG Academy.
TSA OKs SRQ airport application to use private screeners
Sarasota airport faces lengthy process for contractors to come on board
By CHARLES SCHELLE firstname.lastname@example.org | Bradenton Herald
June 5, 2013
SARASOTA — The person who will pat passengers down at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport security lines could be a private contractor, rather than a government employees, if the federal government gives the OK.
The Transportation Security Administration announced Tuesday that it approved the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority’s application for SRQ airport to use private contractor security screeners instead of TSA agents, but it’s far from being final.
The Screening Partnership Program was developed as a pilot program in 2001 as part of the Aviation Transportation Security Act that allowed private contractors to perform TSA screening operations at five airports.
“Regardless of whether the private screeners or federal screeners are used, the process and rules are exactly the same,” said airport president and chief executive officer Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo.
SRQ is the only airport in the nation to receive application approval this year. Sixteen airports in the United States. participate in the program, including Key West International. Six airports, including Orlando-Sanford International Airport, had applications approved in 2012, and one airport in Sacramento International withdrew its application, according to the TSA.
The program was frozen in 2011 when the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the TSA should provide more guidance to private contractors.
The GAO also had questions about which airports would qualify, how the private contractors performance would be monitored compared with TSA agents, whether the private contractors would compromise security and if contractors would be substantially more expensive than TSA agents.
The latest round of applications are part of the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The airport authority decided to apply because of a philosophical decision regarding the TSA as a growing federal agency, Piccolo said, and hoped that private contractors could provide better customer service.
“I’ve talked to other airport directors that had private screenings and they’re all happy with the level of service and customer service, how they treat their customers and their disposition,” he said. “We have not experienced a lot of problems here with federal screeners. This was more of a philosophical issue than a customer service issue that existed.”
The process to put private screeners in place is a long one, and there are no guarantees that the private screeners will be hired, Piccolo said.
The next step is for the TSA to issue a request for proposal for companies to provide the security services, according to the TSA.
“An airport only participates in the SPP (screening partnership program) when a contract is awarded,” according to a TSA spokesman. “There will be no immediate change to operations or to the federal work force at the airport.”
Orlando-Sanford International Airport was accepted into the program in 2012, but the TSA has yet to issue the RFP, Piccolo said. The TSA also has to figure out whether the private screeners would save the federal government money, too.
“The cost cannot exceed what they use now,” Piccolo said. “Not sure how the contractors would address whether there would be more agents or less agents.”
Since 2004, all commercial airports are eligible to apply to the screening program, according to the TSA.
SRQ airport departures plummet 38 percent in 6 years
SARASOTA — Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport’s departures suffered the largest decrease among Florida airports over the past six years, a study released this week by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows.
Departures at SRQ airport dropped 38 percent from 2007 to 2012, leading to a 24 percent reduction in available seats during the same time period, according to a small community air service trend report by MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation.
The SRQ hit in departures led all major Florida airports with commercial air service. Tallahassee, close behind with 35 percent fewer departures, has the worst seat reduction in the state at 31 percent; Sarasota’s 24 percent seat reduction was second worst.
The numbers do not surprise those paying attention to the airline industry locally and nationally as legacy airlines continue to merge and giants such as Southwest cut service.
Shrinking airline industry
Continental left SRQ and eight other markets in 2008, leaving travelers without convenient options to Cleveland, Houston and Newark, N.J. Southwest pulled the plug on its AirTran service in Sarasota last year, which
was one-third of the airport’s service at the time. Southwest also cut 10 percent of its domestic departures in the six-year span.
SRQ is classified as a small-hub airport, which boarded between .05 and .25 percent of all U.S. air passengers in 2011, according to the report. In 2007, the airport had 9,617 departures, then dipped to 5,973 in 2012. Seat availability declined 24 percent from 986,412 to 748,575 during the same time.
“On the number of seats, you see a smaller decline because some of it was backfilled with bigger aircraft with the carriers that remained,” said Rick Piccolo, chief executive and president of SRQ.
Carriers such as Delta used larger planes while JetBlue added flights to New York and Boston.
The average decrease for airports in SRQ’s category was 18.2 percent in flights and 13.5 percent in seats, according to the report.
Piccolo has been aware the downturn in flights and fewer airline options has travelers heading to Tampa and even Orlando. He launched a campaign to get locals to consider using only SRQ for air travel and, when that isn’t possible, using only airlines that fly in and out of SRQ.
The airport received a Public Relations Association Image Award for its Do You SRQ? campaign. The nearly $125,000 campaign also included print and video ads, social media marketing and a video featuring a ninja warrior stealthily navigating the airport.
Whether the campaign was effective in converting pledges into passengers remains to be seen. The loss of a daily, non-stop flight from Baltimore, didn’t affect attendance at Baltimore Orioles spring training, which had a record attendance at Ed Smith Stadium this year.
The MIT report was released the same day Piccolo was awarded the Tourism Outreach Award for helping gain exposure for the area, particularly in the United Kingdom and Germany.
The Sarasota airport serviced 60,000 international tourists via international airport hubs last year, even though SRQ lacks a European carrier, Piccolo said. Air Canada reported 3 percent more passengers passed through SRQ last season, he said, with 30,000 passengers.
To make up for the loss of AirTran, JetBlue increased flights to New York and Boston, and added flights to O’Hare International in Chicago via United Airlines. Delta helped fill in some gaps, too.
Piccolo expects departures to improve this year as Jet Blue adds year-round service to Boston, and more flights to New York.
To add more service, Piccolo said he will have to talk to the existing carriers to cut a deal because mergers have decreased the number of airlines.
“We’re hopeful over time that service can grow where we were pre-AirTran,” he said.
The merger of U.S Airways, one of SRQ’s main airlines, and American may be good news for SRQ. Piccolo said the merger could open an opportunity to add service to Dallas — a major American hub.
The Airport Authority Board will hear an update on the status of the startup Sunrise Airlines at its 1 p.m. meeting Monday in the Dan McClure Auditorium, 5900 Airport Auditorium Lane. Sarasota resident and former Oasis Hong Kong Airlines executive Stephen Miller is behind the potential new airline. Miller and his wife, Hannah, are trying to raise $30 million and gain Federal Aviation Administration approval to launch Sunrise.
Piccolo will also receive his annual performance review Monday. He has received superb reviews over the last 15 years despite rocky times in the airline industry.
SRQ’s story isn’t unlike those at the nation’s 29 largest airports, which lost 8.8 percent of yearly scheduled domestic flights since 2007 compared with smaller airports, which lost 21.3 percent of their flights, according to the study. Low-cost carriers such as Southwest and ultra-low cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air have grown over the last six years, according to the report.
The bright spot among small Florida airports is Orlando-Sanford International Airport, which increased flights 48 percent during the six-year period, mainly through Allegiant destinations.
The airport is a strong competitor for visitors coming to Manatee County. Orlando-Sanford brought 15.7 percent of visitors by plane in 2012 compared with 17.3 percent who arrived at SRQ, according to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ultra-low cost carriers providing infrequent service at least partially replace traditional legacy carriers such US Airways that have pulled out of markets. While JetBlue, Frontier and AirTran increased flights during the study period, it wasn’t enough to make up for the legacy brand cuts by American, Delta, US Airways and United/Continental.
“It shows the industry itself has consolidated a great deal,” Piccolo said. “It gives you fewer flights and fewer seats because airlines are tightening their operations and making sure every flight is pretty much full.”
Federal funding cuts and a new federal rule requiring newly hired pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of flight time could cause additional issues for regional air service, according to the report. The cuts could force smaller airports to use incentives to attract new service.
“However, conducting too many of these deals runs the risk of drawing the ire of incumbent airlines, who may threaten to exit if they do not receive the same preferential treatment as a new entrant,” according to the report.
SRQ will be more solid financial ground come August 2014 when it pays off $150 million in bond debt for its terminal built in 1989 and when renovations will be complete, Piccolo said.
The airport, funded without annual taxpayer subsidies, can then bring its cost of doing business down to help lure airlines, he said.
SRQ woos Southwest to resume Sarasota-Bradenton air service
SARASOTA — Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is keeping an open dialogue with Southwest Airlines despite its own marketing encouraging travelers not to fly with the carrier.
Rick Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of the airport, told the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority Board Monday that the two sides are talking again.
“We reinstituted contact with them. All we’re doing is talking,” Piccolo told the Herald. “It’s a good exercise for both. Good for us, good for them.”
After Southwest AirTran left SRQ airport in 2012, the airport started a “Do You SRQ?” marketing campaign asking passengers and organizations to pledge to use the airport and its carriers, basically nixing Southwest from the equation.
While Piccolo is still push
ing that theme, internal talks between the two sides to resume service are ongoing. Piccolo doesn’t want to get travelers’ hopes up as there is no timeline, and “it’s a long way from new service.”
“What applied a year ago may not apply today, and may not apply five years from now,” Piccolo said. “We’re very gracious, looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”
A Southwest official said it is not unusual to talk with airports where it has discontinued service.
“We talk to airports all the time. That’s an ongoing relationship building we do and information gathering we do. We’re always happy to have those conversations,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said. “It’s not that we walk out of a market and never talk to them again.”
Following the loss of AirTran, SRQ passenger traffic decreased 2.6 percent in 2012, according to Piccolo’s annual report.
“We recovered about 60 percent to 65 percent of total passengers that AirTran took away,” Piccolo said.
So far, passenger counts are down 14.4 percent through one-third of the year, but Piccolo expects ridership to improve during the summer, ending the year at an 11 percent to 12 percent decrease.
The full-year additions of JetBlue service to New York and Boston should improve ridership, he said, and planes are leaving SRQ in the 85 percent to 93 percent occupancy range.
Opportunity is there to recoup passengers lost by AirTran’s departure, whether that’s with Southwest or a competitor filling the gaps, airline industry analyst Michael Boyd told the airport authority Monday.
A study showed 360,000 passengers on nonstop flights did not go to Tampa for nonstop flights to those destinations served by AirTran from SRQ, including Baltimore, Indianapolis and Milwaukee, Boyd said. The airport found a decrease of nonstop passengers to those destinations the following year out of Tampa, he said.
One possibility is passengers either opted to drive, chose another destination or stopped flying, he said.
“If you put the seats in, they will come,” Boyd said. “With markets like that, there are people who want to come here.”
To regain passengers, nonstop service would have to be offered, he said.
“There are stimulation effects on traffic in this community, but it’s influenced by the non-stop service,” he said “It just goes away to another city where it’s non-stop.”
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study shows SRQ departures decreased the most among Florida airports over the past six years at 38 percent from 2007 to 2012. The loss caused a 24 percent reduction in available seats during the same time, according to the small community air service trend report by MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation.
Tallahassee, close behind with 35 percent fewer departures, has the worst seat reduction in the state at 31 percent; Sarasota’s 24 percent seat reduction was second worst.
Boyd considered the AirTran bubble a gift, being able to show the effects of the future of the airline industry. AirTran pulled out of markets like Indianapolis because they didn’t connect to other destinations. That has changed since the Southwest merger and realignment, he said.
“From an access point of view, service is much better than what it was before,” Boyd said.
It will take about six years to fully recover the traffic that AirTran brought, Boyd said.
Outside of Southwest, Boyd said there are opportunities for SRQ to upgrade service through Delta to Atlanta, US Airways to Charlotte and United to Chicago. Expansion should be targeted with American Airlines to Dallas, Delta with year-round service to Detroit and United to serve Denver, Boyd said.
Authority board member Dr. Gary Kompothecras is pushing for service to Houston to connect with other western cities.
“I think anybody can fill that void to Houston. From this place, nobody can get out to the West,” Kompothecras said. “A lot of people are affluent, and they want to go to Colorado, Tahoe, Calif., and all that.”
Dallas would be more likely than Houston, Piccolo said, because it is home for American, which is merging with US Airways.
SRQ officials are presenting service pitches to both companies, Piccolo said, because no one knows which airline management will head the merged company.
Financially, SRQ airport is doing well thanks to its conservative fiscal approach, according to the report. A surplus of $821,000 was rebated to the airlines, which reported a net $2.4 million from operations in fiscal 2012 — a more than threefold increase from $735,000 in fiscal 2012.
The airport is on track to be debt-free in August 2014, paying off its terminal built in 1989 while operating on a pay-as-you-go basis except for the $150 million bond for the terminal.
“I think our conservative financial management has strategically placed the airport in a strong position to weather the economic storms and we are better positioned than most airports from a financial perspective,” Piccolo reported. “The Southwest announcement is a prime example of how the prudent fiscal policies positioned SRQ to weather the volatile swings in aviation with a minimal impact on airport facilities, services, and staff.”
Several airport improvements are expected in the coming years. A customs inspection facility continues to progress, and the airport hopes to advertise bids to construct the areas this year.
A new air traffic control tower is designed and the airport hopes the FAA will fund construction, but sequestration budget cuts in Washington stalled those talks. The state and the airport have each committed $4 million to the tower, which is estimated to cost $12 million to $15 million, Piccolo said.
The tower would be relocated to the southwest part of the property to allow about 40 acres for hangars and other real estate development. Without relocating the tower, the property couldn’t be developed because the new buildings would block the view of the air control workers, Piccolo said.
The airport is also hoping to finalize regulatory approval for its $2.5 million customs facility, which is projected to help lure international carriers, Piccolo said.
The customs facility will handle 130 to 150 passengers during a peak hour, which is fine for narrow-bodied aircrafts, but European carriers use larger planes, so the facility needs to handle 250 to 300 passengers in a peak hour if it wants to attract carriers such as Monarch, he said.
Seventy percent of the construction cost is funded through grants, he said.
The authority released its annual performance evaluation for Piccolo on Monday, and the chief executive officer received a near perfect score save for one incomplete grade.
Piccolo earned 250 points out of a possible 300. Newly appointed board member Dr. Peter Wish declined to grade Piccolo because Wish only attended one meeting.
“I don’t feel I have enough information to make my evaluation,” Wish wrote in his review. “From what I have observed so far about Mr. Piccolo’s performance, I am very impressed.”
Wish was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in February to replace former board member Bob Waechter, who quit in December after he was accused of felony identity fraud and improper campaign contributions relating to allegations he purchased Visa gift cards in a Republican political rival’s name and donated those funds to a Democratic fund.
Piccolo is graded on 10 areas: business development, relationship with board, financial management, public image, staff development, community relations, strategic planning and goals, leadership, job and industry knowledge and regulatory compliance.
SRQ Airport Wants Passengers To Pledge To Use Airport
Knowing that, SRQ Airport officials are launching a campaign to keep passengers flying out of SRQ instead of Tampa or Ft. Myers.
“It’s not a lack of passengers going on aircraft that has hurt this community,” said Rick Piccolo, president and chief executive of . “It really is a level of competition. It’s also the level of support of people willing to go to other airports.”
Piccolo announced a $130,000 campaign called “Do You SRQ?” where the airport hopes to have businesses and individuals pledge that they will check flight options first from SRQ when planning business travel.
The program touts that the airport contributes nearly $1 billion to the annual economic impact, no toll roads to get to the airport, convenient parking and not having to stand in security lines and baggage check for two hours.
The airport loses 1 million trips to Tampa, followed by 237,000 trips out of Ft. Myers’ Southwest Florida International Airport and 125,000 trips out of Orlando International Airport. That adds up to $4.5 million in local sales taxes for flights and $756,000 in sales tax from car rental gas purchases, according to an airport study.
This program aims to reduce the “leakage” by 3 to 8 percent annually during the next five years.
A big part of the pledge is if a passenger can’t find a flight to their destination, they will fly on a carrier that serves SRQ.
Essentially, the pledge targets both Tampa International Airport and Southwest Airlines, which is shedding the AirTran name and rolling it into their Southwest badging and operations.
And Piccolo is not shying away from that.
“With the decision of Southwest going up to Tampa, what they have said to the local community is, ‘We can get your business without supporting your community. We can get your business without generating jobs here We can actually take jobs away. We can take tax revenue away from you. We can take economic impact away from you and you will still support us,'” Piccolo said.
The average SRQ round trip ticket costs $27.54 more than Tampa International, according to an airport study, but Piccolo boasts the “price premium” at Sarasota International for the good service. And $20 of that is for hub taxes to land at a connecting destination, he explained.
“It keeps a good level of air service here because our carriers make money, our carriers are profitable. Even AirTran was profitable by the way, here. [The loss of AirTran] is a change in model when Southwest acquired them,” Piccolo said.
The “leakiest” destinations for folks to choose another airport in the Sarasota-Tampa area are Chicago, New York, Boston, Piccolo said.
Right now, JetBlue, Delta, U.S. Airways and United/Continental serve domestic flights and the airport is making up for and , but still has a gap in the Midwest and at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is a major hub for Southwest.
That will seem to leave Orioles fans in Maryland wanting to come to Sarasota for Spring Training the option to either fly into Tampa, or if they want to stay with SRQ Airport, fight car traffic on one of the nation’s busiest and most congested corridors from Baltimore into Washington hoping they can make their flight at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on U.S. Airways. Piccolo admits because Southwest’s presence at that airport it would be difficult to pull off.
“We’re trying very hard to find replacement for those, but it’s a difficult one because Southwest has such a large hold on that location,” Piccolo said. Southwest is also a longtime predominant advertiser in Oriole Park at Camden Yards and on Orioles broadcast. How that relationship could effect marketing for Spring Training flights to Sarasota is unknown.
One option is to offer direct service to Baltimore without having to change planes at the layover destination, he added.
“If we’re not going to get non-stop service, we’re at least trying to get direct service,” he said. Currently on direct flights to BWI, AirTran passengers had to change planes in Atlanta.
JetBlue or other SRQ carriers like Delta, U.S. Airways or United could be options as all offer flights originating from BWI.
What seems to be a better bet is for Pirates and Marauders fans. SRQ airport will target Pittsburgh Pirates fans who want to come to Bradenton for Spring Training, Piccolo said, exploring direct or non-stop service to the Steel City.
Bringing that Bradenton connection should help attracting more Manatee County residents to the airport. An airport survey showed that less than 80 percent of Manatee residents considered SRQ as their home airport where about 88 percent of Sarasota County residents consider SRQ Airport their home airport.
The key in getting service that customers will pay for is offering non-stop service, Piccolo explained.
“We’d like to get more Midwestern service,” Piccolo said. “With United, we’re looking at things like Newark, and we’re really going after some Western service.”
That plays into the leakage strategy as one study showed the airport that it loses 100,000 passengers to Tampa International for destinations to the West.
The airport also submitted an application for the federal Small Community Air Service Development grant program that would pay $500,000 to support a new westbound service, he added.
If that would be approved, Piccolo the airport’s options include one of the following:
• United could service Houston,
• American Airlines to fly into Dallas
• Delta to Salt Lake City
• Frontier Airlines to Denver
Piccolo had ranked the service to Houston first followed by flights to Dallas.
“We had good service to Indianapolis and Milwaukee on AirTran — good Midwestern towns that hopefully find some other places, too,” Piccolo said.
The airport is flashing incentives to carriers such as an offer of up to $615,000 for single, daily service in marketing and fee abatements.
“An airline can absolutely operate here for a year, virtually for free,” Piccolo said. “You can’t get any cheaper than free.”
Another strategy to boost flight inventory for SRQ, Piccolo said, is to offer direct flights to destinations where changing carriers wouldn’t be necessary, but instead, just changing planes.
That comes in the form of talks with Silver Airways to provide a charter-type service to Ft. Lauderdale, the Florida Keys and Miami using 19-seat beach crafts and 34-seat Saabs, Piccolo said. Silver was formerly called Gulfstream International Airlines. Silver is a Star Alliance member, putting it into the network of United for flight booking.
“They hub in Ft. Lauderdale and do a lot of island flying as well,” Piccolo said. “We have had discussions with them about getting service into South Florida, which would hook people down into the islands and ultimately in Miami and would get them a gateway into South America.”
Silver also claims Tampa International as a hub, according to its website.